June 8, 2012, 9:37 AM

IRCE 2012 Report: It’s no longer just about deals at Buy.com

Buy.com reimagines e-commerce—and its site—as collaboration with the shopper.

Lead Photo

Bernard Luthi

Rakuten’s Buy.com is nearing completion of a web site redesign built on a concept different from any of its earlier redesigns: “Buy from people, not the Internet,” chief marketing officer Bernard Luthi told attendees at the Internet Retailer Conference & Exhibition 2012 this week.

The design concept, Luthi said, is based on the vision of parent company Rakuten’s CEO, Hiroshi Mikitani, that Internet shopping should move beyond a “vending machine-like experience” to one that is a “living process,” that is, an ongoing collaboration between retailer and customer. Buy.com Inc. is No. 36 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide.

That guidance led Buy.com’s redesign team to look for balance between a deal-driven site—Buy’s heritage as an online retailer-- and what Luthi called the human touch. The goal was to create a site where customers pay “a fair price for products touched by real people,” Luthi said. For example, a product page shows not only a selection of items for purchase from a specific shoe retailer but also a story about the shoe company and its founder.

Deals will remain a big part of Buy.com when the new site launches this summer. But the site will not simply list deal after deal, which can overwhelm the shopper and do little to deepen customers’ engagement with the brand, Luthi said.  For example, the new site is experimenting with what Buy.com is calling “marathons” in which special deals are offered on certain products for a limited time.

Luthi also offered insight into the process Buy used to execute its new vision for the redesign. “We decided not to go through a standard web development process,” he said. While the Buy.com redesign team included the CEO at every step, the team was smaller than in earlier redesigns, enabling it to stay focused on the core vision and avoiding the potential watering-down effect of too much input from too many sources.

And while a variety of features within that vision were considered for implementation, everything was tested before it was approved as part of the redesign.  “We let the numbers talk, versus trying to achieve consensus,” Luthi said. Focus groups and usability testing with both merchants and customers were critical to the redesign process, he added.

Buy.com was acquired by Rakuten, one of the world’s largest Internet service companies, in 2010. Buy’s redesign is not the first time Japan-based Rakuten has demonstrated its commitment to evolving the online experience into something more engaging for consumers—the company was one of the investors in a recent $100 million funding round for social sharing site Pinterest. 

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